RETIRED priest Fr Bernie Costigan was 25 when he walked through St Stephen’s Cathedral to become a changed man.
The year was 1966, and Fr Costigan was to take his first step on the long walk down the centre aisle to enter the priesthood.
“Well, it was all very exciting in a way, and very humbling,” he said.
Fifty years to the day, on June 29, Fr Costigan made the same walk to celebrate a milestone he never thought he would live to see.
“I remembered coming in those 50 years ago this morning, coming into the cathedral,” he said of his presbyteral jubilee Mass on June 29.
He cited his “good Catholic family” and two Sandgate parish priests, Fr O’Rourke and Fr Edwards, as big influences on his calling to the priesthood.
“I think as long as I can remember I was inclined to that vocation; it came to fruition this day 50 years ago,” Fr Costigan said.
During his 50 years as a priest, Fr Costigan has worked with Catholics in both rural parishes and city communities, including 25 years at Bracken Ridge, and also a seven-year stint in the Cook Islands.
Many of those parishioners made a surprise visit to his 50th anniversary Mass last week.
“I was really surprised to have so many (here),” Fr Costigan said.“They were nice people; they were very tolerant of me.”
Fr Costigan entered the priesthood along with Fr Brian Cooper, the same day Brisbane auxiliary Bishop Joseph Oudeman was ordained.
They celebrated their golden jubilees alongside diamond jubilarian Fr Joe Flannery, and silver jubilarians Bishop-elect Anthony Randazzo, Fr Morgan Batt, Fr Jan Bialasiewicz, Fr Rafal Rucinski, and Fr Vu Dinh Tuong, a former Jesuit.
They renewed their commitment to the Church as priests before a packed congregation.
Vietnamese-born Fr Tuong said he found his vocation in the aftermath following the Communist invasion of South Vietnam when he became a refugee.
“I saw a lot of people who spent a whole lifetime trying to get up to the ladder in society and when the Communists came they stripped everything away and ran away – they left their family, they left all the glory of the world and they ran away,” Fr Tuong said.
“I saw that there must be some other values more than material wealth.
“That was the beginning of my priesthood.”
His time spent in a refugee camp reinforced the call to turn away from the world.
“I saw all the volunteers, who knew nothing of us, but came to help us and try and be nice people,” Fr Tuong said. “I learnt from these people and I tried to help them.”
Fr Tuong escaped Vietnam in 1979 and landed in Australia.
He joined the Jesuits in 1981 and spent 20 years with them, including 10 years in formation, but due to a debilitating illness, he wound up in Brisbane.
“Well I got very sick and the weather here is good enough for me, so the doctor advised me to come to Brisbane to control the cough,” Fr Tuong said.
While in recovery mode, he pursued a call to be a diocesan priest. He is now serving as parish priest at St John’s Wood-The Gap.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge personally congratulated each jubilarian at the Mass on June 29, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul.
In his homily, Archbishop Coleridge likened the group of jubilarians to the “unlikely couple” of Peter and Paul.
“If you look at where they come from – Fr Joe Flannery, he’s not with us today to celebrate his 60 years, he was born in Ireland,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Bishop Oudeman of course, he was born in the Netherlands.
“Fr Costigan was born here but he worked for quite a long time in the Cook Islands, so he’s a bit of an ex-pat.
“Bishop-elect Randazzo, he was born in Sydney, he came up here but we’re sending him back to Sydney.
“Fr Batt was born in Brisbane but he had a long time in the armed services but also he went down to Tasmania, for the Port Arthur massacre, at least that happened under his watch.
“Fr Jan and Fr Rafal, well they were born in Poland. Look at them now.
“What an unlikely band they are.”
Dominican Father Tom Cassidy, from Carina, also celebrated 50 years in the priesthood.
By Emilie Ng